Omar Shahine has a post where he talks about FireAnt. FireAnt is communications part of the AJAX framework shared by Hotmail,, MyMSN and MSN Spaces which Steve Rider alluded to in his post Spaces, Hotmail and Start (oh my!).

Omar writes

Last summer we spent a lot of time at the white-board evaluating a number of ways to deliver a new architecture for Hotmail. We considered a number of things:

  1. Modification of the current C/C++ ISAPI architecture to support a hybrid ASP model.
  2. .NET rewrite for the DataLayer and BusinessLayer and XML/XSLT for the PresentationLayer
  3. Same as #2 but the Presentation layer would be JavaScript, XMLHTTP, and DHTML/CSS. This now has the fancy name, AJAX.

After much deliberating, we chose #3, and started running. For 4 weeks basically 1 PM, a developer and an intern built a prototype, and then the real thing (in case you are in college I’d note how cool it is that we put an intern on the most important technology we we're building). As more people started to move over to the FireAnt project, we got more and more excited about what was happening. You see, writing AJAX code can be a pain, and we didn’t want to spend our days and nights writing a lot of JavaScript and debugging client side Script. Instead we built an infrastructure that dynamically take server side objects (classes and methods) and automatically generates client side JavaScript stubs. The end result is that the client side object model looked exactly like the server side object model. Information was transported across the wire using XMLHTTP and the whole thing happened Asynchronously.

We extended .NET Attributes to mark classes and methods as FireAnt classes/methods and at build time the script is generated. If you think of SOAP support in the .NET Framework, it’s basically similar. As a developer you do not worry about generating SOAP messages, or building a SOAP parser. All you do is mark your method as [WebMethod] and your classes as [Serializable] and the .NET framework takes care of proxying, class generation etc. That’s what we were shooting for.

This was a big deal for us as it allows us to be incredibly productive. Since last summer, we have built a ton of features using FireAnt and the JavaScript Frameworks from Scott Isaacs. Late last fall we went up to Redmond and showed FireAnt to a number of folks in MSN, one of those folks was Steve Rider. It was really exciting to see the looks on folks faces when Walter (our FireAnt “architect”) setup his “Hello World” demo. You could just see that people realized that doing AJAX style development any other way was crazy.

We’ve since showed our stuff to a number of teams inside Microsoft. As a result of our work, Walter and Scott have spent a considerable amount of time with the Whidbey/ASP.NET folks and it’s pretty exciting to see ATLAS come together. If you want to learn more, Walter will be giving a talk at the PDC on what we’ve built. It’s great so see collaboration between our team and the Developer Division as the end result will be a better more scalable version of the .NET Framework for you.

Trying to build a complex AJAX website with traditional Visual Studio.NET development tools is quite painful which is why the various teams at MSN have collaborated and built a unified framework. As Omar points out, one of the good things that has come out of this is that the various MSN folks went to the Microsoft developer division and pointed out they are missing the boat key infrastructure needed for AJAX development. This feedback was one of the factors that resulted in the recently announced Atlas project.

A key point Omar touches on is that development became much easier when they built a framework for handling serialization and deserialization of objects to transmitted using XMLHTTP. The trick here is that the framework handles both serialization and deserialization on both the server (ASP.NET code) and the client (Javascript code). Of course, this is AJAX development 101 and anyone who's used AJAX frameworks like AJAX.NET is familiar with these techniques. One of the interesting things that falls out of using a framework like this is that the serialization format becomes less interesting, one could as easily use JavaScript Object Notation (JSON) as opposed to some flavor of XML.

If you're going to be at the Microsoft Professional Developer's Conference (PDC) and are interested in professional AJAX development you should definitely make your way to the various presentations by the MSN folks. Also, we're always looking for developers so if building AJAX applications that will be utilized by millions of people on a daily basis sounds like your cup of tea give us your resume.